Hoping to grow its outdoor offerings and preserve undeveloped land, the City of Goleta is actively attempting to acquire property in both Old Town and Ellwood to keep as open space or turn into parkland. That was the subject of a closed session hearing at City Hall on Tuesday, in which city councilmembers gave staff direction to continue negotiating with property owners of vacant lots toward the end of Mathilda Drive and to begin discussions with the owners of the used car lot on Hollister Avenue near Highway 217, as they also own the adjacent, vacant lot that along Kellogg Avenue.
Vacant lots toward the end of Mathilda Drive south of Stehle Lane
The three Mathilda Drive properties are just a fraction of the 17 undeveloped lots there south of Strehle Lane, a couple of which are already owned by the city. “It’s the city’s desire to really not see those developed,” said City Manager Dan Singer, explaining that the quarter-acre lots have floodplain and ecological issues, sit in the state’s rigorously analyzed coastal zone, and are currently crisscrossed with trails that go out toward the Ellwood bluffs. Although zoning once allowed for as many as 16 units per acre — much like the rest of the neighborhood accessed by Entrance Road — both the County of Santa Barbara and then the City of Goleta dwindled the zoning down to the current 4.6 units per acre, which is basically one house per lot. Due to such building constraints, only one owner in the area has expressed any interest in developing his lot over the past five years, said Singer, but that owner never pursued his plans.
The used car lot on the corner of South Kellog and Hollister avenues
Singer said that the city has contacted all of the owners there, but that “these three owners seem to be the most interested and eager.” The city currently has $315,000 in developer impact fees set aside for purchasing in this area, although Singer realizes that there’s no way that amount could buy all of the remaining lots. “That’s like seed money,” he explained. “The council is interested in stretching dollars as far as they can. If there’s any way to get three or four parcels with that money, they’d vote to do that.”
As to the other properties, Singer explained, “We’re actively seeking funds to be able to afford to buy them all.” He said that such fundraising efforts “haven’t been terribly successful,” but hopes that the down market might entice some of the property owners to sell sooner rather than later. “We would hope that we could pick these properties up from willing sellers at something less than the appraised price,” said Singer, “but that’s just going to be up to the negotiations.”
The other property being eyed by Goleta is the used car lot and an adjacent undeveloped parcel at the corner of South Kellogg and Hollister avenues in Old Town. The vacant land was identified by city and county officials years ago as the perfect place for a park, so the city became very interested when the property went on the market a little while back. When city staff first went to the council to ask for guidance, the councilmembers directed them to conduct further research on other possible and similar properties, said Singer.
On Tuesday, Singer’s staff delivered the news that there are no other properties that match the benefits of this lot, which is the last undeveloped portion of Old Town north of Hollister; there are lots to the south, but that would require park-going children to cross the busy thoroughfare, and those lots tend to be either isolated or surrounded by industrial structures. “It’s the only site on the northside that’s vacant and available,” said Singer. As such, the council directed Singer to enter into negotiations with the owners.
At the moment, the owners are asking for more than $4 million for the two properties. The City of Goleta conducted its own appraisal about eight months ago, and while Singer cannot divulge what they learned, he did say, “Common sense would say that it’s probably worth a little more than half that.” He expects negotiations to start sometime next month.